Proudly standing among Oak Lawn’s finest eateries, serial restaurateur Mike Karns’s chic new restaurant Tulum is a formidable newcomer in the neighborhood.
The restaurant from the founder of Firebird Restaurant Group, an empire of mostly Tex-Mex restaurants that includes Taqueria La Ventana, Meso Maya, and El Fenix, is decidedly different from its more casual predecessors. Named for the bohemian resort town in Mexico, Tulum attempts to evoke the feeling of truly being in the Yucatan Peninsula, known for its white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
The front doors of the space at 4216 Oak Lawn Avenue are hidden in plain sight — they’re made of the same dark-stained, vertical wood slats the cover the entire front wall of Tulum, and the innocuous handles offer a little bit of the real Tulum’s “hidden gem” vibe. Once the doors close, they blend seamlessly into the restaurant’s interior walls, this time without those tell-tale handles.
The restaurant is divided into two main spaces — the bar, and the dining area. Guests enter into the restaurant via the bar, a long rectangular room that boasts shelves lined with bottles of liquor. The bar offers plenty of seating for drinking-only patrons, plus space for diners waiting for a table in the main dining room. A painted-fabric wallpaper of patterned banana leaves guides the eye to Tulum’s dark thatched roof, and back down again to the woven wicker chairs. Fluffy, almost cloud-like lanterns hang low over the center of the bar.
Guests who opt to go to the lounge in the back are met with overstuffed fabric chairs, a leading shelf filled with rough cotton edged books, and a sloped ceiling, onto which a projector beams a series of abstract, artsy videos. Once assigned a table, guests enter the dining room, where the mood changes almost immediately.
Unlike the cool and tropical feeling of the bar area, the dining room feels almost cave-like. Plastered in smooth sandstone colored walls, with almost no windows to speak of, but plenty of light scatters down from above, through thick wicker baskets repurposed as lighting fixtures that hang above every table. Seating is close, but not uncomfortably so, and the open air kitchen allows a touch of dinner and a show, as the chefs bounce from station to station.
Tulum is now open for dinner service Monday through Thursday from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. Before making a reservation, take a peek at the space courtesy of Eater photographer Kathy Tran.